Batten Institute

Corporate Innovators Gather at Darden


March 14, 2011. Approximately a dozen innovation officers representing top U.S. corporations gathered with faculty members in the University of Virginia’s Rotunda on March 11 for the first Innovators’ Roundtable, a day-long Socratic dialogue facilitated by the Batten Institute, a unit of the Darden School of Business.  

Roundtable participants, coming from such diverse industries as telecommunications, global security, and biotechnology, found that as the innovation leaders in their respective companies (a role virtually unheard of 15 years ago) they face many similar challenges and opportunities.

Darden faculty members Mike Lenox, Jeanne Liedtka, Ed Hess and Raul Chao led the Roundtable discussions of the challenges facing today’s innovation officers, such as deciding how to optimally allocate funding between short and long-term projects, how to create a corporate culture that nurtures innovation and how to innovate amidst changing patent and intellectual property laws.

Through the day-long gathering, the group noted several essential characteristics of a successful innovation manager: courage, an experimental mindset and the knowledge of how to test the worthiness of an idea among others.  

The Roundtable discussed the value of utilizing an internal social media network to foster a culture of innovation as well as to gather innovative concepts which otherwise may not make their way to leadership.  Employees should not be pushed to join the social media network, but rather the network should be user-friendly and resemble familiar platforms (such as Facebook) so that membership grows organically within the company. Leadership can post various questions and design problems on the network and see how proposed solutions are modified by employees’ suggestions. Also, informal competitions can be held among employees on the network.

A significant portion of the Roundtable discussion was devoted to the topic of “Open” Innovation, defined as the development of a product or project in conjunction with one or more other companies. Various successful models of open innovation were discussed, such as “pre-competitive” open innovation in which companies share knowledge and resources during the early development phase of a product.  No matter what type of open innovation is employed, however, several innovation officers emphasized the value in assigning distinct roles and clearly defining the rights for each company who partners in an open innovation project.

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